By Zach Hagadone
It was a hefty agenda at the Dec. 7 regular meeting of the Sandpoint City Council, including one item that is sure to ruffle at least some feathers: a goose management plan that includes permitting the hunting of Canada geese at City Beach.
Councilors unanimously approved the ordinance, which allows shooting at the beach from approximately 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. (with cleanup by 11 a.m.) on two days per week from Friday, Dec. 16, 2022 through Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.
Councilors Joel Aispuro, Kate McAlister, Deb Ruehle and Jason Welker voted to approve the hunt, as well as voted “yes” to allow dogs off leash at City Beach during the goose hunt, ostensibly to aid in the recovery of harvested birds.
Councilor Justin Dick, who owns nearby Trinity at City Beach, voted “no.” Councilor Andy Groat was absent.
Would-be hunters will be required to apply for a free permit, from which the winning entrants will be drawn at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 13 at Sandpoint City Hall (1123 Lake St.). The application form and rules will be posted to the city’s website (sandpointidaho.gov) on Thursday, Dec. 8 and hard copies will be available at City Hall. Entrants must be in attendance during the drawing to obtain their permit.
The drawing is only open to applicants who are 21 years of age or older and able to show a valid Idaho hunting license, federal migratory bird stamp and migratory bird permit. An applicant may bring up to three guests who can present the appropriate licenses and permits, but may be younger than 21 years of age.
Shooting will be limited to three designated locations, established as Zone 1 — North Blind, Zone 2 — Middle Blind and Zone 3 — South Blind.
The blinds will be situated east of the beach, placed at 200-yard intervals facing into the waterway. Only non-toxic shot will be allowed.
“Everything the city of Sandpoint has done to mitigate the geese basically isn’t working,” Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon told councilors, touching on years of tactics to reduce the goose population, including the use of dogs, various repellents, flags, statues of predators and, most recently, the capture and relocation of the birds.
According to a basic cost accounting provided in a report to councilors, removing goose fecal matter from the parks incurs $5,000-$8,000 per year in city staffing costs; contracting dogs and handlers to harass the geese cost $5,500 per year from 2015 to 2021; the purchase of sand and grass sweepers to remove fecal matter ran to $27,300; coyote decoys and flags cost $1,500; and repellants cost $2,000 per week.
The “last alternative,” Coon said, is to open up the beach for a hunt.
“We’re hoping this is a good start,” he said.
According to the city’s staff report, “A controlled Canada goose hunt has been recommended by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, wherever possible, within city limits to help control overpopulation.”
The idea is that hunters will immediately reduce goose numbers while also “encourag[ing] geese to move out of the city limits,” and ultimately “discourage migrating geese from staging or wintering here.”
The staff report noted that the city applied to have its permit renewed to relocate the geese in 2022 — as it has done in past years — but was denied due to the incidence of bird flu around the country.
In addition to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, representatives of the Kalispel Tribe “have indicated strong support for a goose hunt as a management strategy and next best step,” according to the city.
Council President McAlister said she’s “thought a lot about this,” noting that while “citizens are concerned about the geese and what will happen to them … I also thought about what was the original intent of City Beach when the Lions Club put it there?”
Reading from an original document describing the purpose of the public park and beach, McAlister said, “The intent is pretty clear there that it would be a park for all of us to enjoy, and not used as a geese sanctuary. … Really, it’s about the people.”
Again, nodding to the several years of other mitigation efforts, she added: “We’ve done everything — and reaching out to the Kalispel Tribe was really great.”
Councilor Jason Welker asked how the goose hunt would be tracked for success or failure.
“How can we be sure we’re not out there shooting geese who literally just landed on their way to Mexico or wherever?” he said.
Coon said the first year of the goose season at City Beach will be too early to tell, and, “I think it’s a couple years out before we get some good data.”
The rules of the hunt stipulate that any geese that are taken bearing leg bands must be reported to the city, in order to keep tabs on which of the birds are migratory or regular visitors to the beach.
Another question raised by Welker, and reiterated by Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad, was how effective the hunt will be if shooters are facing out toward the water, when most of the geese are typically congregated on the grassy area of the park.
“They’ll have to wait for them to take flight,” Coon said, adding that it’s illegal to “harass” the animals into flying in order to shoot them.
Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said the city plans to resubmit its application for relocating the birds, but given the prevalence of avian flu, “the likelihood of us getting approval for a relocation is unlikely.”
The other option is to seek a depredation permit, meaning the city would be authorized to euthanize the geese, though Stapleton said that public input suggests the hunt is preferable: “actually a harvesting of the goose, as opposed to a wasting of the meat through euthanization,” she said.
Coon described the plan as a two-phase project, with hunting in the short-term and seeking a relocation permit in the long-term. For this first year, signs will be put up at the beach indicating when and where the hunting will take place, and police officers will be posted at the site.
“If we get some results, I think it’ll be a success,” Coon said, later adding, “It’s not a once and done.”
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